Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

Winter blues are over; the spring has sprung! The beautiful sunny weather we’ve been waiting for so long is finally here, and what it has brought with itself? Allergies, of course! Mother Nature sure is a teaser: I swear the very moment you start to feel good inside seeing all the flowering beauty around, here comes the first sneeze, and pretty soon you’re doing twenty minutes long sneezing marathons back to back. Your nose is this lovely shade of purple, all you can do is to squint at the world through your narrow bloodshot eyes, and just trying to breathe sucks up all your energy. You can’t sleep, because you’re all stuffed up, and when you leave the house in the morning, suddenly the Niagara falls start gushing from your nostrils. Yup, classic case of spring for many of us.

It just so happens that my birthday falls into the spring season, and this year I was very appropriately gifted a thing that looks just like one of the million want-to-be funny mugs, but it’s actually much more than that. Mr. Red nose egg separator! I run across its picture in some culinary catalogue many moons ago and couldn’t stop giggling. The boys tell me that the older I get the more teenage moments I have, and this was without a doubt one of them. Yes, it’s gross, when you think about it… but it’s also funny, at least it was to me! I then promptly forgot about it, but Mr. Photographer didn’t, and a couple days before my birthday a small box arrived at my doorstep 🙂

And what was inside proved to be really useful this weekend. I’ve never made Pavlova, the egg-white based dessert named after the Russian dancer… but it seems a great thing to have in a gluten-free baking repertoire, so I’ve decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did: The outside baked up nice and crisp, while the inside literally melts in your mouth. The top of the cake sank in a little as it cooled, which proved to be very useful when I went to fill it up. The filling is just mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and some sugar whipped up together with a healthy dose of Bacardi rum (if you have to walk around with red nose thanks to your allergies anyway, you may just as well enjoy some rum… 🙂

Happy spring everyone! Let’s hope the pollen counts will go down some so we can enjoy the sun!

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Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

(adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk)

Cake:
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 40 g (1.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Filling:
  • 225 g (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 50 ml (1.5 oz.) Bacardi rum
  • 400 ml (13.5 oz.) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Method:
  1. To make the Pavlova, trace the bottom round of a 8 inch (22 cm) springform pan on a sheet of parchment paper. Turn the paper over as not to get the markings on your cake. Place the paper onto a baking sheet and butter it lightly (I used a cooking spray.) Preheat the oven to 300 °F (150 °C).
  2. Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. With the mixer on a medium speed, start whipping the mixture. After a couple of minutes start very slowly adding the powdered sugar. Turn the speed up and continue whipping until the mixture is very thick.
  3. With a spatula, gently fold in the cornstarch, vanilla, and lemon juice.
  4. Mound the egg white mixture in the center of your pre-traced circle. Carefully spread it to the edges, while also pulling the mixture up to give it height. (I used the outer ring from the springform pan to help me here – I placed it onto the paper and slowly removed it when I had a nice high circle of egg white mixture made. The cake will fall a little and also spread some, so you want to get it as high as possible.)
  5. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, then turn the temp down to 200 °F (100 °C) and bake for additional 30 minutes. (If the cake is getting dark, cover it with tin foil.) After the 30 minutes turn the oven off and let the cake cool in the oven for about 1 hour.
  6. (The cake can be made the night before and kept at room temp.)
  7. To make the filling, whip the mascarpone, sugar, and rum until light. Separately, whip the cream with the vanilla until firm peaks form. With a spatula, fold the cream into the mascarpone filling and combine.
  8. Assembling the cake: Place the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully spread the filling on top, decorate with fresh fruit and chocolate if desired, and serve.

Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

With the Valentine’s Day just around the corner we’re bombarded left and right with links and articles about love, relationships and marriage. Seven keys to finding the love you want. How to find your perfect mate. Secrets of happy couples. 15 ways to improve your marriage. Everybody is an expert and offers you a surefire way to a satisfying relationship we all long for, and most of the psychologists and therapists base a successful relationship on a mix of love, respect, common goals, communication, and willingness to work as a team.

We’ve got the teamwork down pretty early on – I guess there is no way around it when it’s just the two of you plus a kid (or two) in a world of strangers. When you are an expat that left all family behind, there is no mom to call when you’re sick as a dog and would appreciate a bowl of good old chicken soup, or if you just dream of an hour of non-mommy time. (I remember that even the time in a dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned used to feel like a vacation!) You learn quickly to pull your fair share and do what you can so that your life would run as smoothly as possible.

The thing is, life is busy, and in trying to meet all the responsibilities it keeps throwing at you it can easily start to feel like you are just two people leading separate lives next to each other. And when that happens, it all starts going south: The warm and fuzzy feelings all but disappear, and all you see around are problems. Yet you don’t have time nor energy to deal with them, and you don’t have anyone who’d figure them out with you, either, because your plus one is running in his own hamster wheel.

Heck, I tried. I made Mr. Photographer stay up till the ungodly hours, talking about anything and everything I perceived at that moment as a road block in our relationship. In reality it meant that I was talking and he was talked at and quiet. The more I talked, the more worked up and loud I was getting, and the more clammed up he was in return. Which put another extra problem on top of the first one, because what all the experts say is one of the keys of a good relationship? Communication, right?! 🙂

It took me a good long while to figure out that in moments like this I didn’t need to try to solve the problem(s) I suddenly saw booming in front of me. They were there and probably always will be on this side of the ground. What I really needed was to get off the squeaky wheel (even if I felt I couldn’t afford to!) and take a break from all the busyness – find time to just be together. Life is serious enough as it is, and regular doses of fun do more for a relationship than heated “problem solving” till three in the morning.

So that’s what we’ll be doing as this post is going up! I can’t wait to leave behind the everyday – report cards, laundry, and sticky kitchen floor, and going away for just a bit to recharge. But before I go, here is my last Valentine’s day recipe: Coeur a la Crème – creamy heart in a pool of tart raspberry coulis. You’ll still have time to make it on Saturday night, and surprise your sweetie with it on Sunday morning. Coeur a la Crème is made in a special heart mold, which is perforated, so that the creamy mixture can drain and firm up overnight. You should be able to find it in a specialty kitchen stores at this time of year, but if you don’t care for the heart shape all that much, you can make this dessert also in a colander lined with cheesecloth. The taste will be the same of course – it’ll be sweet and creamy with hints of citrus and vanilla, and the tart raspberry sauce pooled around it complements it so well. (I actually doubled the sauce, and I don’t think it harmed anything!) I love how it turned out, and I especially like the texture that the cheesecloth imprinted on the heart. Please give it a try, whether you’re celebrating the V-day or you’re just planning to enjoy a nice relaxing Sunday with those you love.

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Coeur a la Crème with Raspberry Coulis

(Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

For the heart:
  • 12 oz (340 g) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (125 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ cups (750 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ÂĽ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Raspberry Coulis:
  • 6 oz. (170 g) fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ÂĽ cup water
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)

+ extra raspberries/strawberries/pomegranate seeds for decoration

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Method:
  1. To make the Coeur a la Crème: Line a 7-inch (18 cm) Coeur de la Crème mold (or a sieve) with cheesecloth or paper towels, so that the ends drape over the sides of the mold. It helps to moisten the cheesecloth or paper towels with water so that they adapt better to the form of the mold. Suspend the mold over a bowl, making sure there is space between the bottom of the mold and the bowl for the liquid to drain.
  2. Place the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a bowl of a electric mixer fitted with a paddle; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle with a spatula, and change the paddle for a whisk.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the heavy cream, vanilla, and add the lemon zest. Whisk on high until the mixture is very thick and resembles whipped cream.
  4. Transfer the mixture into the lined mold, fold the cheesecloth over and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. To make the Raspberry Coulis: Place raspberries, sugar, and water in a small saucepan, and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Transfer the raspberry mixture together with all the remaining ingredients into a bowl of your food processor fitted with an S – blade, and process until smooth. Take out the seeds if desired, and chill the sauce until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, unmold the dessert on a serving plate and carefully pour raspberry sauce around the base.

 

 

 

Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

Last week’s gluten-free punch cake really punched me out. Mr. Photographer claims it’s his favorite (although apparently he must have several of those, ranging from somewhat favorite through a bit more favorite to the favoritest), and with the Valentine’s Day approaching an outburst of loving kindness towards him swept over me and I set out to make him this overly sweet, overly pink, and overly boozy treat. I didn’t know much about punch cake beyond that, so I spent hours looking for recipes, comparing ingredients and baking methods, and the more I read, the less I knew what to do. The instructions varied widely, so I did what I do quite often when I feel lost in life: I called my Mother. And she, being the kind soul that she is, put me in touch with a professional pastry chef, and saved the day.

Armed with a new knowledge I woke up the next day with a mission: In the name of love let us de-glutenize punch cake. I started with the boozy punch the cake was to be soaked in, and the more I stirred and tasted it, the more awesome it seemed, and the more courageous I felt. How hard can it be? It’s just a simple vanilla cake, really, with some mighty tasty alcohol thrown in. Piece of cake.

Please, never-ever underestimate gluten-free baking. The gluten-free gods are vindictive nasty creatures, and the moment the thought it’s going to be easy just crosses your mind, they start plotting their revenge against you. How? Let me count the ways.

First, the batter I made following Ms. Confectioner’s tried and true recipe and using supposedly the best gluten-free flour on the market ended up so thick I wasn’t even able to get it out of the bowl. We’re talking “stand the spoon in it” thick, and getting thicker by the minute. Obviously it was going to take more than just sub the gluten flour with the outrageously expensive gluten-free mix, even if the package clearly stated to measure “cup-for-cup”! But I was just starting out and my fighting spirit was still going strong. I’m simply going to recalculate and make some adjustments. I can do that. Especially in the name of love.

The second attempt at the batter looked much better – until I transferred it onto the baking sheet, that is. Then it just sat there in the middle of the parchment paper refusing to move, like a stubborn toddler at a toy store. No and no, you can’t make me. Well, I raised two stubborn determined toddlers in my lifetime, so some eggy batter won’t throw me. It might’ve taken a lot of convincing with spatula dipped into water, but eventually I had the batter where I wanted it, spread on the entire sheet. Looking through the oven door it was wildly bubbling up in the pan, and I was slowly starting to lose my patience and getting more and more frustrated. Come on! The cake batter is supposed to rise in an orderly way and not behave this erratically. This is no fun.

Despite everything the cakes emerged out of the oven looking surprisingly normal. OK, so it’s not the best baking experience I’ve had, but we’re halfway there. I’ll let the cakes cool, in the meantime I’ll regain my cool as well, we’ll spread some jam on and pour the oh-so-good punch over, and we’re done. And tomorrow upon taking a bite Mr. Photographer will declare me the best wife ever.

Unfortunately, the gluten free gods were nowhere near finished with me and the worst was yet to come. When I carefully started soaking the cake with punch, the once very sturdy cake started literally falling apart in front of my eyes, and I very nearly followed in its footsteps. In my head I quickly counted how many eggs, flour, time and energy I put into that cake, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry or start throwing my dirty bowls and spatulas around. I briefly considered slurping up all the boozy liquid instead of wasting it on the darn cake, leaving the kitchen disaster for Mr. Photographer to deal with and call it quits. But I guess I’m too bull-headed for that 🙂

I admit to shedding some angry tears. I admit not being so gentle with the cake anymore. I splatted the booze in splotches onto the cake, slapped the top layer on, shoved the thing into the fridge, weighed it down, and went to bed. Tired, furious, and disappointed. The next day I sheepishly took it out, and cut away the edges. And to my amazement it was a-OK. It wasn’t the most gorgeous cake I’ve ever made… but the layers melded together, the punch-soaked center firmed up, and the cake smelled heavenly: it had hints of lemon, orange, raspberry… and rum. Don’t forget the rum.

The punch cake lesson the gluten-free gods taught me is three-fold: (1) Gluten-free baking will never be the same as gluten baking. It has its own principles, and it will take time to learn them all. Humility and patience is the name of the game. (2) Things are never as bad as they look at a first glance, and it’s best not to make hasty decisions (like wanting to throw unfinished cake away). (3) Things don’t always work out as we want them to, and we (I!) need to learn to roll with the punches baking and life will throw our way. Wish me luck in all of that!

 *****

To gain back some self-confidence after last week’s “pink nightmare” I’ve decided to make something simpler this weekend: Bavarian crème with coffee and white chocolate coupled with cute chocolate cut-out cookies. I went for hearts to keep with the Valentine’s Day theme, and once again made them gluten-free for my guy. The process is very simple. Unlike crème anglaise, which is custard crème thickened with eggs, Bavarian crème is lightened with cream and firmed up with gelatin. You pour it into a springform pan lined with parchment and let it set. When unmolded, the dark chocolate cookies look beautiful standing out against the beige coffee crème, and provide a nice crunchy contrast to the smooth sweet crème. It’s a simple dessert, but decorated with couple of fresh raspberries/strawberries it offers despite relatively few ingredients a cuteness overload, and is good not only for Valentine’s Day, but any time your heart longs for something sweet!

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 Bavarian Crème Cake with Chocolate Hearts and Raspberries

(cookie recipe adapted from http://www.glutenfreeonashoestring.com; cake recipe adapted from http://www.ricette.donnamoderna.com)

 

Chocolate Heart Cookies:
  • 140 g (1 cup) good quality gluten-free flour mix
  •  1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your mix contains gums already)
  • 40 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • ÂĽ teaspoon baking powder
  • 56 g (4 tablespoons, 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, room temperature, beaten
Bavarian Crème:
  • 20 g Knox powdered gelatin (almost 3 whole packets; 7 g each)
  • ½ cup water
  • 500 ml (2 cups) half-and-half (or whole milk)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 100 g (5.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white chocolate, chopped
  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
Liqueur syrup for brushing the cookies:
  • 8 tablespoons Crème de Cocoa liqueur
  • 100 ml (3 oz.) water
  • + 1 egg, beaten – for egg wash to brush the cookies (optional)
    – 200 g (7 oz.) fresh raspberries

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Method:
  1. To make the chocolate cookies: Line a cookie sheet with parchment; preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C). Mix together all dry ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
  2. Whip butter and sugar together until fluffy, gradually add in vanilla and beaten egg; mix well.
  3. Combine the butter-egg mixture with dry ingredients until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 6 mm thickness; freeze the dough until firm, about 5 minutes.
  5. Cut out cookies, arrange them on the parchment lined sheet (they don’t need much room, as they won’t spread much, if at all.) Freeze the cookies until firm, about 5 minutes.
  6. Bake the cookies for about 9 minutes, until the centers are opaque and not shiny anymore. Don’t overbake. Brush the still hot cookies with egg wash, if desired. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for couple of minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. (The cookie dough as well as the cookies can be made in advance and frozen. Let the cookies come to room temperature before proceeding.)
  7. Bavarian Crème: Combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin “bloom.” Line the bottom of a 18 cm (7 inch) round springform pan with parchment paper; lightly butter the sides.
  8. Whisk egg yolks with sugar and vanilla for couple of minutes until light yellow and thick. In a deeper saucepan, heat up the half-and-half/milk with coffee until hot.
  9. Prepare water bath by placing the saucepan with milk into a bigger pan filled with water. Pour some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper it, and then pour the warm egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan with milk. Cook the crème in the water bath for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the crème thickens somewhat and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  10. Add chopped white chocolate to the hot crème; mix thoroughly to melt the chocolate. Let the crème cool a bit, and then add in the bloomed gelatin while the crème is still hot. Mix well to melt the gelatin into the crème. Strain the crème into a bowl, and let it come to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  11. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. With a spatula, carefully fold the whipped cream into the crème.
  12. Assembling the cake: Carefully pour some of the crème into the springform pan to cover the bottom, and place the pan into the fridge for 5 minutes to let the filling set a bit. (Leave the remaining crème on the counter; you don’t want it to start setting just yet.) Sprinkle the crème with raspberries. Continue layering crème and fruit, letting each coffee layer set in the fridge for couple of minutes, and ending with the crème on top. Let the cake chill in the refrigerator until the crème is well set, at least 4 hours.
  13. Carefully unmold the cake onto a serving plate. Brush the chocolate hearts with syrup and press them against the sides of the cake. Decorate the cake with grated chocolate and fruit if desired, and serve.

Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

It’s that time of year again: Toothy jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and scary witches are jumping at us from every corner. It’s a time when you can feed the neighbor kids all kinds of sweet cr*p, so they think you’re the coolest lady in the neighborhood (just don’t forget to promptly send them back home, so that when the sugar high hits and they’ll inevitably go crazy, you won’t be the one that has to deal with them). The only time when you don’t have to worry about having bad hair day and dark circles or puffy eyes, because being scary is actually a requirement. Actually, this time of year you could maybe even get away with killing that horrible coworker that has been annoying the heck out of you for ages: you’d just put him or her in a squeaky old chair on your porch, and no one would probably notice (not for the first week, anyway)!

Some people love Halloween, while others positively hate it and can’t wait for it to be over. When I first came here, I thought it was the weirdest holiday ever. It took me five years to accept it, and another five to get to like it. Today I see it as an opportunity to play, and that is always a good thing in my book. We have to play in life… otherwise it all gets too serious. And it doesn’t really matter if you dress up or not (my teenagers would probably say I don’t need to because I’m a witch all year anyway), or if you decide to dress up your porch instead and make your home the scariest one on the block. The important thing is that you take some time away from all the busyness that’s normally doing its best to suffocate us and do something – anything – that makes you feel like a kid again.

And this is how we played at our house this week! I found this recipe sometime last year and put it aside just so I could make it this Halloween. Panna cotta is a traditional Italian custard, made from sweetened cream thickened with some gelatin. You can flavor it any way you want – mine is made with half cream/half coconut milk and infused with toasted coconut. I enjoy working with gelatin, knew the boys would appreciate some good old creepy food, and I even managed to get Mr. Photographer to step into the kitchen and join me in some gross-out fun 🙂

So here you go! Don’t you want to cut yourself a piece of that squishy bulgy eyeball? Play, eat, drink, and be scary.  Happy Halloween!

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Spooky Coconut Panna Cotta with Bloody Good Raspberry Sauce

(adapted from http://kitchentablescraps.com; makes 6 servings)

Panna cotta:
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ÂĽ cup dark raisins
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin (I used Knox brand)
  • 1 tablespoon Malibu (coconut rum)
  • 1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • ÂĽ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
  • 3 kiwis
Raspberry sauce:
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon raspberry liqueur (optional)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Lenses:
  • 1 ½ teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
Equipment:
  • 6 semi-cylindrical molds or bowls (I used silicone baking mold with 6 cavities), about ½ cup each
  • cooking spray
  • melon baller
  • muffin pan with foil liners
  • small cookie cutters (1 1/2 inch, 3.8 cm in diameter)

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Method:
  1. First, toast the coconut: Place the coconut in a non-stick pan, and stir it constantly over a medium heat until very lightly brown and fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Soak the raisins in warm water to soften them; then drain and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk with cream and sugar; heat until hot, but not boiling. Remove from the heat. Add the toasted coconut and coconut extract; let stand for at least 20 minutes to infuse the milk liquid with coconut flavor.
  4. Combine gelatin with 1 tablespoon Malibu rum; let stand for about 10 minutes to “bloom”.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the molds and the kiwis: Spray the molds with cooking spray; wipe away the excess. Peel the fruit. Cut off the end and cut each kiwi in half. Place the kiwi into the mold to measure and cut it so that it is the exact height as your mold or bowl. Take the cookie cutter and cut the kiwi into a perfect cylinder. With a melon baller scoop out the center of the kiwi cylinder where you want the pupil to be. Put the scooped out half cylinder back into the kiwi for now. Invert the kiwi into the molds so that the scooped out end is facing down.
  6. Strain the toasted coconut flakes out of the milk liquid. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in a warm liquid and then transfer the mixture into a measuring cup for easier pouring. Carefully pour the coconut cream around the kiwi into each mold until full. Move the molds into the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours. (I chilled overnight.)
  7. Make the lenses: Bloom the gelatin in 1 tablespoon water for 10 minutes. Line muffin cups with paper liners. Heat up the 1/2 cup water with sugar; do not boil. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin in the water and pour a little bit into each muffin liner. Chill the gelatin for at least 30 minutes until set. When the gelatin has set, unmold it carefully and cut out 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) circles which will become the lenses for your kiwi irises. Chill until needed.
  8. Assembling the eyeballs: When the panna cotta has set, get ready to unmold it by placing a sheet of wax paper onto a cutting board. Carefully unmold each piece onto the paper and clean any bits of white panna cotta from the kiwis. Take out the small piece of kiwi from the center of the iris and fill the cavity with soaked raisins. Place the lens over each kiwi iris. The edges of the gelatin lens will be a little rough; take a hot knife and carefully melt the gelatin around the edges to make it smoother. Refrigerate the eyeballs while you make the sauce.
  9. Prepare the raspberry sauce: In a small saucepan, combine raspberries with sugar; heat the mixture to break up the fruit. Add the liqueur if using, and strain the mixture to get rid of the seeds.
  10. Spoon the raspberry sauce onto a platter, sit the panna cotta eyeball on top and serve.

Note:

I have a silicone baking pan with 6 half-sphere cavities, and used it for both the panna cotta eyeballs and the lenses. Removing the panna cotta was a little tricky; so I inverted the pan on the cutting board lined with wax paper and used a hair dryer (very carefully, for just 2 – 3 seconds) to get the dessert out. Removing the lenses was very easy; they slipped right out without any trouble.

Pie pops with fresh berry preserves filling

Do you know what day is it today? Saturday, you say? You’re right, of course. It is the day when you hopefully get to sleep in a little, wake up slowly, yawning and stretching in your bed, and when it’s ok to lounge in your PJ-s till noon. (All of this applies only if you don’t have small kids. If you do, you’ve been up since 5 A.M., and from the moment you first jumped up, your day has been a hazy whirl of feeding, cleaning, and trying to keep the little tykes from killing themselves, or murdering each other. Don’t despair. This too shall pass, and soon enough you’ll get to know such Saturdays as I’m talking about).

Saturdays are awesome. But the reason why I’m asking about today is actually the date of this particular Saturday. A quick glance at the calendar reveals it’s March 14th, and according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, on March 14th (or 3/14) math lovers around the world “celebrate Ď€ day, commemorating the mathematical constant Ď€, since 3,1, and 4 are the first three digits of Ď€ in decimal form”. If you didn’t know, please don’t feel bad. Until last year, I didn’t have a clue either. If you ask me, there is nothing about math that would be even remotely celebration-worthy. Frankly, in my opinion math is just a handy acronym for Mental Abuse To Humans. Over the years I’ve been abused plenty by all those derivations, permutations, factorials, and quadratic functions the honored Ď€ is so close to, and I have scars to show for it. As soon as I could I ran from math far, far away, until I found rest in a safe haven of linguistics. The problem was right around that time I also met Mr. Photographer, who turned out to be a math-whizz, and who later gifted me with a carbon copy of himself in one of our sons. I’m afraid there is no way I’ll be able to run from math any time soon.

But back to that iffy Ď€ celebration thing. There is no celebration without some sweet treat, and what’s a better way to celebrate Ď€ day than with a pie? And because I love baking, and I also kind of like my two math lovers, I’m willing to forget the wounds math inflicted on my psyche and keep the truce for a day. So don your aprons and bake with me. Then eat the pie, share it with math lovers and math haters alike, or have a pie fight and throw freshly baked pies around (just be careful not to poke someone’s eye out with the stick!). Whatever you decide to do, have fun and enjoy yourself. Thankfully, unlike in solving equations, there is no wrong way to celebrate π day!

  Pie pops grouped

Pie pops with fresh berry preserves filling

(inspired by A. Smetona’s Easy as a pie pop
Pie crust recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

Pie dough (makes 2 9-inch pie crusts, or about 15 pie pops):
  •  3 cups (390 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/3 cup cold shortening
  • ½ cup ice cold water
Berry preserves (recipe makes about 2/3 cup):
  • 200 g (7 oz.) fresh strawberries
  • 200 g (7 oz.) fresh raspberries
  • 150 g (5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon Crème de framboise (raspberry liqueur, optional)

+ 1 egg for egg wash
coarse or colored sugar for sprinkling the top crust
8-inch (20 cm) lollipop sticks

 Pie pop individual
Method:
  1.  To make the pie dough: Place the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl of your food processor, fitted with an S-blade. Add the (cold!) butter and shortening and pulse couple of times until the mixture resembles peas. With the processor still running, add as much cold water until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough ball in half, wrap it and refrigerate (dough can be made ahead and refrigerated, or even frozen).
  2. To make the preserves: Run the berries through a food processor or a blender (it makes for a smooth jam that works best for the pie pops). Pour the blended berry mixture into a small saucepan, add all the other ingredients, and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Keep removing the foam from the surface (you can also add 1 teaspoon on butter to reduce foaming). Cook about 30 minutes until the jam is very thick, then let it cool to room temperature while you cut out the pie pops.
  3. On a well-floured surface, roll one dough ball into a circle (keep the other half in the fridge). With a floured 2.5-inch (6.5 cm) cut out 15 circles for bottom crust of the pie pops. Transfer the cut-out circles on a baking pan or a plate lined with parchment paper and refrigerate while you cut out the top crust of the pie pops.
  4. Roll out the other half of the dough and cut out 15 circles. With a small cookie cutter cut out the centers to reveal the filling.
  5. Assembling the pie pops: Brush each bottom crust with a little bit of egg wash and firmly press a lollipop stick in the center. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoon of preserves in the center (don’t overfill the pie pops, you don’t want the jam to ooze out). Place a top crust over the jam and press the edges.
  6. Crimp the edges with one of the lollipop sticks; first around the stick to hold it in place, and then all around the circle.
  7. Carefully transfer the pie pops onto baking pans lined with parchment paper. Brush them with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar if desired.
  8. Bake at 375 – 400 °F (190 °C) for about 15 minutes until golden.

Pie pop individual

Raspberry Vanilla Mousse Cake

To tell the truth, I’ve never cared about Valentine’s Day too much. I dislike all the commercial hype that makes men feel like a failure if they don’t come through with something big. I hate the crowded restaurants, overpriced flowers, and all the pressure surrounding it.

My man knows I’m not into sappy cards, and I kill plants with a mere look (can I claim that as my superpower?) So he doesn’t need to bother going to Hallmark and can save a pot of mini-roses by leaving them at the store instead of bringing them home. Even though nothing is really expected, chocolate is always welcome 🙂

All that being said, I’m glad I have the special someone to boycott Valentine’s Day with. Every year I’m reminded of just how lucky I am.  Even if only for said reminder, and the opportunity to step into the kitchen and make something new and yummy, I say the sentimental Hallmark holiday is worth it.

So let’s celebrate. Let’s make food. Because food is LOVE, after all.

Raspberry Vanilla Mousse Cake

Raspberry Vanilla Mousse Cake

Vanilla cake:
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 70 g (2.5 oz..) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 80 g (3 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Raspberry mousse:
  • 5 g (2 teaspoons) of Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 50 ml (ÂĽ cup) water
  • 250 g (8 oz.) raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • 40 g (1.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • ÂĽ cup heavy cream
Vanilla mousse:
  • 9.5 g (4 teaspoons) of Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 140 ml (4.7 oz.) water, divided
  • 2 sachets vanilla sugar, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) white sugar
  • 472 ml (1 pint) heavy cream
Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a 10-inch (26 cm) silicone heart pan or springform pan, and butter/flour the sides.
  2. In a bowl, mix flour with baking powder and set aside.
  3. Beat whole eggs with sugar and vanilla until thick and light yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Add hot water and continue beating for another 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. With a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. The batter should look fluffy and aerated. Pour into a pan, smooth out, and bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Let cool in a pan for couple of minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
  6. When the cake is cool, return it into a washed pan, and place a heart shaped pancake/egg mold in the center. Set aside.
  7. Make the raspberry mousse: Cook the raspberries with the powdered sugar in a pan for about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and puree in a blender until smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  8. Combine gelatin with water, let stand for 5 minutes to bloom. When the gelatin absorbs the water, heat it in a water bath until it dissolves, stirring constantly. (Be careful not to cook it, it needs to be hot, but not boiling.) Set aside and let cool until lukewarm.
  9. While the gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  10. Stir the lukewarm gelatin mixture into the raspberry puree.  When the raspberry gelatin mixture isn’t warm anymore, but hasn’t started to gel yet, gently fold in 2 – 3 tablespoons of whipped cream.
  11. Spoon the raspberry mousse into the heart mold, smooth out. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. (I chilled overnight, and continued on the next day.)
  12. When the raspberry heart is set, run a hot knife around the edges of the mold, and remove the mold. Put the cake in the freezer while you make the vanilla mousse.
  13. Vanilla mousse: Sprinkle gelatin over 70 ml of water, let bloom for couple of minutes.
  14. In a small pan, combine sugar in the other 70 ml of water;  stir over low heat until sugar dissolves completely. Take off heat, and add the bloomed gelatin. Stir to combine, and let cool until just lukewarm.
  15. While the gelatin sugar syrup is cooling, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Take the cake out of the freezer.
  16.  Pour the barely lukewarm gelatin mixture into the whipped cream, stir to combine (mixture will be pourable – that’s exactly what we need.) Pour the vanilla mousse into the pan, taking care when pouring around the raspberry heart. Because the white mixture is liquid, it should distribute evenly and smooth out on its own.
  17. Put the cake in the fridge again, and chill for at least 4 hours, before inverting it on a serving platter. Chill until serving time.
Note:

The quantities listed are enough for a 3-layered cake made in a 9-inch round springform pan. For the heart cake in the picture, I used roughly half of the raspberry mousse and had vanilla mousse left over as well, so I just put the rest in alternating layers into glasses.

When making a 9-inch round cake, prepare the cake base as listed in the recipe. Bloom the gelatin and dissolve it in the hot sugar syrup. Then measure the sugar-gelatin syrup, and divide it into two equal parts. Whip 236 ml (½ pint) of heavy cream with 1 vanilla sugar/1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until soft peaks form, and combine it with 1 half of the lukewarm gelatin-sugar syrup. Pour onto a cake in the pan, and put in the fridge to firm (about 15 minutes should be enough). Spoon the raspberry mousse on a first white layer, chill until firm again (the raspberry mousse was firming up more slowly, so you’ll probably need to wait longer). For the last layer, whip the other 236 ml (½ pint) of cream with 1 vanilla sugar/1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until soft peaks form, and combine it with the other half of lukewarm gelatin-sugar syrup. (The gelatin-sugar syrup will firm up while you’re waiting for the raspberry mousse to gel, but don’t worry – you can easily liquefy it again over a pot of hot water. Just stir it constantly while you warm it and be careful not to boil it.) Pour the last white layer on a firmed up raspberry mousse, and chill for at least 4 hours before running a knife around the cake in the pan and inverting it onto a cake stand.